I have an aunt who is famous for her enchiladas suizas. It is her go-to meal for birthdays and holidays. She makes them in big batches and we tend to feast on them for three days straight. Trust me, we are not above fighting over the last one.
Enchiladas suizas means “Swiss enchiladas” in Spanish. They are called this alluding to the first Swiss immigrants to Mexico who formed dairies and helped to firmly entrench cheese and creams as a staple of the Mexican diet.
Last year, when I went to visit the WeExpats office, I decided to cook for everyone. I made my aunt’s family recipe for enchiladas suizas. I’d like to think they were a big hit and I felt as though I had made her proud. When our CEO asked me if I would write an article on how to make chicken enchiladas, I knew they must have left a mark.
My first instinct was a reluctance to give up our family recipe; yet after some introspection, it brought me great joy to think that so many people would get a chance to try her amazing chicken enchiladas. Thus, I’m happy to share with you our family recipe for how to make chicken enchiladas.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 1: The Ingredients
This recipe for how to make chicken enchiladas generates 4 baking pans of enchiladas suizas. We have a big family. Besides, we are big fans of the leftovers so we make extra. If you want to half the recipe for two baking pans, it will end up just fine.
For our recipe on how to make chicken enchiladas, you will need:
- The Salsa:
- 1 habanero pepper
- 1 large sweet onion
- 3 large tomatoes (I typically go with Roma or Heirloom but it’s your choice)
- The Beans:
- 3 cans of whole black beans (you can totally make these from scratch too)
- Chicken bouillon powder for seasoning
- The Guacamole:
- 1 small red onion
- 2 large Hass avocados
- 3 large, juice limes (more if smaller)
Manditory for the Enchiladas Suizas:
- 60 – 80 corn tortillas (preferably fresh)
- 4 serrano peppers
- 1 large white onion
- 10 – 12 large tomatillos (tomate verde in Spanish)
- 1 ½ bulbs of garlic (peeled)
- 1 bottle of avocado oil (you can use vegetable oil and they will be fine)
- 1 liter of Mexican cream
- 1 kilo of a firmer cheese like a mozzarella or Oaxaca. For more info, click here.
- 1 kilo of a softer cheese like manchego or chihuahua. For more info, click here.
- 8 chicken breasts
*If you are vegetarian, you can saute different-colored bell peppers and onions and use that as a stuffing. You can also add zucchini or other vegetables and it turns out great! WeExpats completely supports your choice. Don’t worry, they still turn out spectacular. For example, the enchiladas that I made for the work party were vegetarian.
*A note on picking serrano peppers. When you are looking for a spicy serrano pepper, a rule of thumb states that: peppers that have streaks along the sides and peppers that have a curved stem are going to be spicier. This is because these are signs that it dried on the bush, therefore it had time to mature and develop capsaicin.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 2: Making the Salsa
My understanding is that enchiladas suizas are always made with a salsa verde and cream—at least that is how we have always seen them. However, cursory research on Wikipedia states that enchiladas suizas can even be made with a bechamel. However, for this particular recipe on how to make chicken enchiladas, we first start off with a salsa verde (Spanish for “green sauce”).
I like to take the tomatillos (tomate verde in Spanish), serrano peppers, white onion, and all the peeled garlic cloves, and I toast them on a comal over a medium-low flame to bring out that roasted flavor. You can easily toast them on a skillet with no oil, but the idea is to get that char on the outside.
*Safety Note: Please be careful when you are roasting the peppers and tomatillos on a comal. The juices on the inside will get hot and they can explode if you are not vigilant. If you see an ingredient that is rising in water pressure, then just pierce it lightly with a sharp knife. Don’t be afraid to wear eye protection and certainly wear an apron.
Set aside one-third of the comal-roasted garlic for the accompanying salsa. Then load the rest of the ingredients in a blender. Afterward, add about a tablespoon of chicken bouillon powder dissolved in roughly a half a cup of water to help season the salsa and blend it smoothly in the blender.
*If you are making the full recipe, you will likely have to make two batches of salsa unless you have an industrial-sized blender. Use a half cup of seasoned water for each average blender batch (1/2 gallon / 64.oz). If you can do the full batch in a massive blender, then use a full cup of water and two tablespoons of chicken bouillon powder.
*Some people like a sweeter salsa verde and many recipes call for sugar. Mine does not.
When you are blending the ingredients, you should blend on high until the bits of charred chile and tomatillo get so small that they resemble black pepper.
*If you want to save time, you can use a nice commercially-bottled salsa verde. You will probably make about two liters of salsa verde from this recipe, so purchase about two liters of salsa. With every step that you remove, the quality suffers. However, I should note that my aunt uses bottled salsa verde. I am the only member of my family who makes the salsa verde from scratch.
Once that is complete, return your salsa verde to a large pot and begin to spoon in heavy cream, stirring over low heat until it is dissolved into the salsa. Then set the salsa aside and allow it to cool. When choosing how much cream to blend in with the salsa verde, the color is the key. Some people like a greener salsa, others like a whiter salsa. For this recipe on how to make chicken enchiladas—if you add too much cream, then you dilute all the effort we took in making the salsa from scratch with smokey, charred ingredients. Feel free to add salt and pepper to taste.
*Also feel free to adapt this recipe to other types of enchiladas—perhaps some in red salsa or a nice mole, whatever you are interested in. Just please do not use a cheap salsa from a can labeled as “enchilada salsa”. I have never found a good canned enchilada salsa.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 3: Cooking the Chicken
*If you are a vegetarian, feel free to caramelize some vegetables such as shredded zucchini, multi-colored peppers, and onions.
*If you are a pescetarian, we often make these enchiladas with shrimp for my uncle. Just lightly sauté prawns in butter and then cut them into chunks. Slightly under is okay because they will be cooked for another 20 minutes when you actually bake the enchiladas. If not, they end up rubbery and chewy.
Most chicken enchilada recipes simply take inexpensive chicken breasts that are still on the bone, boil them, and shred them with their fingers. This is where my aunt’s recipe for how to make chicken enchiladas stands out.
We pan fry the chicken breasts. This offers us the umami flavor profile which has recently been taking the fine-dining world by storm. Umami occurs via the Maillard Reaction. To learn more, click here.
The first step is to pat the chicken breasts with a clean paper towel to remove any excess liquid from the breasts. This liquid will interfere with the Maillard Reaction because this reaction occurs above 100C / 212F, but you won’t get above this temperature while there is water on the chicken.
Some people wash the chicken, though you should be aware that this is not recommended by several prominent health organizations because it will splash bacteria everywhere which increases your risk of infection. Cooking the chicken thoroughly should destroy any bacteria on the chicken breasts.
When frying the chicken, I like to use avocado oil. This is because avocado oil has all the healthy fats and acids like omega-3, however, it has one of the highest smoke points of any oil (higher than corn and vegetable oil). Therefore, it enables you to fry in healthy oils. Also, it has a very mild, unique, and authentic flavor that will really help to take your enchiladas to the next level. Use 100% pure avocado oil, don’t use some type of flavored avocado oil.
*If you can’t find avocado oil or you can’t afford it, then any kind of vegetable, corn, or sunflower oil will work fine. Olive oil will have too low of a smoke point and will alter the flavor of the enchiladas too much in my opinion.
My aunt coats the entire chicken breast in a popular all-purpose seasoning that rhymes with the word “like”. Then, she pan-fries the chicken breasts until they are thoroughly cooked through.
However, because I make all the salsas from scratch and I try to coax natural flavors from the ground up, then I only lightly season the chicken breast with Himalayan salt, a bit of paprika, and fresh ground pepper.
*By all means, this is your time to shine. Be creative. Perhaps something like sage, turmeric, and cayenne might give your chicken your own personal flair. We support you in your artistic expression.
Next, on very high heat, I pan fry both sides of the chicken breast. I only fry it long enough to brown the chicken on both sides. I will usually add a cube of really nice butter at the very end to finish off the chicken.
Then I finish cooking the chicken in the oven. This ensures that you will have the moistest chicken possible. I usually put it in for 15 minutes at 150C / 300F (unless the breasts are exceptionally thick, in which case I leave them in for 20 minutes). Upon removing the chicken, I let the breasts rest before I begin shredding the chicken.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 4: Shredding the Chicken
Shredding the chicken is laborious—especially if you are making the whole recipe with eight chicken breasts. It will take about a half hour at least. This is why my aunt does not shred the chicken anymore. Instead, her kids and nephews help out in this process—the more the better.
If possible, conscript hungry youths to shred the chicken for you. This is the way of things.
Most Mexicans use their fingers to loosely shred the chicken. This will give your enchiladas that typical Mexican “tinga texture”—and if that is what you are interested in, then you should do that too. It will save you time, and it won’t affect the flavor. However, you can get tough chicken if you did overcook the chicken slightly. Remember that the chicken is cooked twice because it is cooked, shredded, and then cooked again.
My aunt and I use two forks to really get the chicken very finely shredded. I even take this to the extreme, shredding the chicken until it has the consistency of minced pork. This step is entirely up to you and your particular preference in texture.
*I tend to shred all the chicken and if anything is left over, then it freezes quite well.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 5: Frying the Tortilla
When you are making enchiladas, never use flour tortillas. These end up soggy and gross after they come out of the oven. This is a big no. Always make enchiladas with corn tortillas.
Frying the corn tortilla is rather simple. Be sure to get fresh tortillas, preferable thinner tortillas. Fry them lightly in a little bit of avocado oil—really only enough to coat the pan. You are only frying them enough to soften the tortilla, not enough for them to harden and darken. If you do, they become tostadas (which is another fun recipe to try and make another day).
Set them down on a cutting board or cookie sheet lined with paper towels and pat them dry with other paper towels. Let them cool a little bit before you roll the enchilada, but don’t let them cool too much.
When you roll the enchiladas, it helps to have another person who can fry the tortillas while you roll the enchiladas. This assembly line method will drastically cut your time in half. However, if it’s just you, fry all the tortillas and stack them atop each other, then you can begin rolling.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 6: Rolling the Enchiladas
When you roll the enchiladas, you just grab the fried and softened corn tortilla by hand. Then you add the shredded chicken at the bottom. Be generous with the chicken. Then add a generous amount of cheese.
*For my recipe on how to make chicken enchiladas, I don’t like the enchilada cheese to be too runny. I like to use a runny cheese in combination with a firmer cheese which helps to hold the structural integrity of the enchilada when serving it. This is completely my preference in texture. If you like runny enchilada with gooey, melty cheese, then try to use only queso chihuahua instead of the manchego and mozzarella that I have chosen for this article. Click here for more information.
Lastly, add a generous amount of sauce inside of each enchilada covering the chicken and cheese. This is our secret. This will impart flavor and keep the chicken moist.
Gently set the rolled up enchilada inside a baking pan. Try and roll the enchiladas in straight rows. This will help you greatly when it comes time to remove them from the baking pan. You may have to get creative depending on the size of the baking pan and the size of your tortillas. Think of it as a game of Tetris.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 7: Baking the Enchiladas
Once you have your baking pan filled with rolled up enchiladas, then it comes time to put salsa and cheese on top of your enchilada. What I do is, I put salsa and cheese only on the middle of the enchilada rows—leaving the edges of the enchilada without anything but just bare tortilla.
I do this because I like the crispy edges of the enchilada. The uncovered fried tortilla bits end up becoming like crunchy tortilla chip bits which add a crispy texture that I very much enjoy. Some people really like softer enchiladas, in which case you can add loads of salsa, making these enchiladas softer.
Then put them in the center rack of a preheated oven at 175C / 350F. I usually heat them until the cheese is melted, then I move them to the top rack and broil them for about 5 minutes until a lasagna-type crust forms on the top.
This only helps to boost the umami flavor profile. However, for those of you who like runny, saucy, melty enchiladas, you can serve the enchiladas when the cheese has melted. In fact, not broiling the enchiladas creates a more traditional and authentic product.
Carefully remove baking pans and let them cool for 5 – 10 minutes before serving.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 8: Refried Beans
A great, easy way to accompany enchiladas suizas is to make refried black beans. You can spend as much time on the black beans as you would like. If you wish, you can make some in a slow cooker crockpot, and add bits of pork, black pepper, onions, garlic, and epazote to develop elegant flavors.
However, since you have already been cooking for a while, I thought I would reveal a quick trick to make some pretty good beans in a jiffy with canned whole black beans. I have found that the ingredient list can be very helpful in picking which canned brand to choose. Get the generally-inexpensive beans that just have “whole black beans in water” as the only ingredient. Avoid fancy brands with strange preservatives.
Because you already have a warm skillet with oil on it (after frying the tortillas), then just add the canned beans with the water directly into your pan. Add a couple of healthy tablespoons of chicken bouillon powder to the beans and cook them until they begin to simmer.
With a slotted spatula, press down on the beans until they have all been mushed. They will have a homemade texture to them and no one will tell that they originally came from a can.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 9: The Accompanying Salsa
When I make enchiladas suizas, I tend to serve them with a spicy salsa on the side that people can put atop the enchiladas. This allows your guests to give whatever spice that these mild enchiladas lack if they so wish.
If you have a nice salsa lying around, feel free to use it. You can choose any salsa that you wish—whether fine or chunky, red or green, sweet or savory—however, I would recommend that you employ one on the hotter side and let people add it to taste. One simple solution that works incredibly well is to simply buy (or make) a salsa macha—which is typically just chili peppers in oil.
For this recipe on how to make chicken enchiladas though, I have decided to make a chunky-style tomato salsa. You can spend as much time on this accompanying salsa as you like (for example fire roasting the tomatoes and the habanero, then peeling them to add even another level of char to the flavor profile). However, I just boiled the three large tomatoes and then peeled them. I also used one large habanero pepper. I deseeded the pepper and boiled it with the tomatoes.
*Boiling the pepper reduces the intensity of the accompanying salsa drastically. For a hotter salsa, put the deseeded habanero pepper in raw into the blender. For a very hot salsa, put the entire pepper without the stem into the blender.
For this salsa, take the sweet onion and cut it into rings. Then sauté the rings in a little bit of avocado oil over low heat. Cover the pan to sweat the onions until they are soft and slightly translucent.
Then add a dash or two of some flavorings to give your onion that extra sweetness. For this recipe, I used a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. However, you can get creative here, just don’t add too much liquid overall or it will take away from the sweetness of the caramelized onion and muddle the flavors.
*I often add white vinegar to this salsa to really try and add an acidic element to this salsa, it’s really depending on my mood at the moment and what I hope to pair it with. However, because I planned on imparting acid into this dish via the guacamole, and because I didn’t use a sweet salsa verde, I thought a sweeter accompanying salsa would be more appropriate for this recipe on how to make chicken enchiladas.
*One important thing to note is that when you add brown liquids to your onions, they will look brown (as though the sugars have been caramelized) before the sugars have actually gotten a chance to caramelize. Don’t be fooled. Be sure to wait until the onions reduce in size as well.
Take the amount of roasted garlic that you had set aside, and add that to a blender with the three boiled and peeled tomatoes, the habanero, and the caramelized onions. Add salt and pepper to taste if you so desire. Blend until smooth. Don’t worry, it will maintain a chunky consistency which I quite like for this recipe on how to make chicken enchiladas.
How to Make Chicken Enchiladas – Step 10: The Guacamole
As mentioned above, I decided to impart the acid in the dish via the guacamole. This provides a cooling element while also adding an acid capable of cutting the richness of the enchiladas suizas.
*Whether or not you decide to make guacamole, you should attempt to add an acid to the dish. For example, you can do this by serving the enchiladas suizas with margaritas featuring your favorite tequila or mezcal or even lemonade or limeade. I tend to pair these enchiladas with a crisp Mexican lager.
For this recipe on how to make chicken enchiladas, I take half of a small red onion and mince it very finely. Then I add the two Hass avocados, the juice from all the limes, and a heavy dose of salt which will help to bring the flavor of the guacamole to the forefront.
This guacamole is a condiment, not an appetizer. It does not need to be extensively complicated—in fact, doing too much here could detract from the complexity of the flavors that you have spent so much time developing.
*Serve the cold guacamole on the side, not on top of the enchilada, allowing everyone to add their desired amount to each bite. Also for some people, the acid in the limes can cause heartburn thus it’s best to leave the guacamole on the side.
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